ALEX Salmond distanced himself from the Dalai Lama’s visit to Scotland by personally reassuring the Chinese ambassador that the trip had nothing to do with his government.
The Scotsman can reveal that the First Minister gave the assurance to Liu Xiaoming when they met in Edinburgh shortly before the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader came north of the Border.
The disclosure has led to fresh criticisms of First Minister’s behaviour during the Dalai Lama’s visit earlier in the summer.
Mr Salmond was criticised for failing to meet the Nobel peace prize winner. At the time of the visit, Mr Salmond’s critics suggested that the First Minister dodged the Dalai Lama in order to preserve his good relations with China, a country with which he has forged trade links.
Critics of the SNP leader said he should have met the Dalai Lama, who is seen by human rights activists as a symbol of the plight of the Tibetans who have been under Chinese occupation for more than 50 years.
Shortly before the Dalai Lama arrived in Scotland, the Chinese ambassador to the UK Mr Liu met Mr Salmond in his Bute House residence. Also present was Li Ruiyou, China consul general.
An official Scottish Government note of the 6 June meeting has been obtained by The Scotsman under freedom of information legislation.
The document, made by a civil servant, said: “The ambassador asked the First Minister about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Scotland in June. The First Minister clarified that is a private visit at the invitation of the Conference of Edinburgh’s Religious Leaders and the Edinburgh Interfaith Association, amongst others. The Scottish Government is not involved in the visit.”
The note made no mention of Mr Salmond addressing China’s human rights record, although the First Minister’s spokesman said the SNP leader had made representations on that issue in the past.
Last night, director of Amnesty International Scotland, Shabnum Mustapha, said: “Amnesty was disappointed that no-one from the Scottish Government was available to meet with the Dalai Lama on his visit to Scotland.
“As the Scottish Government is in the process of developing its new China plan, it would have been a great opportunity to have discussed human rights with the Nobel peace prize winner to balance out the countless meetings they have had with Chinese officials.
“The Dalai Lama himself has said if he was offered a meeting with the Scottish Government he would have met with them.”
Opposition politicians claimed the document was a further indication that Mr Salmond went out of his way to disassociate himself from the Dalai Lama’s visit when put under pressure from the Chinese.
Jenny Marra, the Labour MSP, said: “As if further evidence was needed, this shows that Alex Salmond did everything the Chinese wanted him to do to distance himself from the Dalai Lama.
“The First Minister should have proven his diplomatic mettle by voicing his concerns about human rights abuses in China and affording a proper welcome to the Dalai Lama, an international ambassador for peace. Instead, he was nobbled by the Chinese government and snubbed the Nobel peace prize winner to the embarrassment of Scotland.”
The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “This is hard evidence that the First Minister rolled over when the Chinese ambassador put the pressure on over the Dalai Lama’s visit.
“He claims he couldn’t meet the Dalai Lama because of the nature of the visit, but I and many others did meet him, so that’s a bogus excuse.”
Mr Salmond has made several trips to China in the last few years to help promote Scottish trade and cultural links. The Chinese government responded by allowing two giant pandas to be sent to Edinburgh Zoo as a gift to Britain last year.
A spokesman for the First Minister said the criticisms were “baseless and contrived”, adding that Mr Salmond had made representations on the issue of human rights.